Sunday, December 23, 2007


Once upon a time there was born a story that is said to be true, but no one really knows for sure. Like so many stories that we know, it is true in the deep spiritual message that it carries, if not exactly in the strict historical sense of the setting in which it is placed. I am choosing to relate it during this Christmas season because my present situation reminds me of the story just about every day. I remember it in its San Diego setting, because that is where I first heard it. When I checked out the Google reference, I found out that what I have been taking for undeniable, non-negotiable historical truth for all these years is a parable that serves all of us who know the story, regardless of the source or the setting with which we connect it.

There was, and still is, a magnificent church in one of the toughest parts of the city of San Diego. The church, like many inner city churches sat on a magnificent piece of real estate. It has a nice, well-groomed lawn, neat shrubs and hedges and is generally very well kept. In the middle of the front lawn, dead center in front of the tabernacle on a beeline down the spine of the church stands this marvelous statue of Christ. One day, a long time ago, this statue was stolen. Clean as a whistle with not a clue left behind. The entire city and county turned its attention to finding this treasure that was not only a church property, but a symbol of the unity of the local community as well as the entire region. The search was not easy and time passed, in fact, a lot of time passed, and the statue remained unclaimed, and never replaced because it was always believed that the Savior would find His way back to His people..
One morning, several years after the disappearance and not long before Christmas, there was the statue. Intact except that the hands had been cloven clean off the arms at the wrists. People came to daily Holy Mass and were astounded that their statue had returned. They were also stirring a mixture of anger and relief inside of themselves. Anger at the vandalism that had claimed the hands but relief that they had their Savior back in their midst. The buzz was more like a roar. The present pastor was inundated with all kinds of suggestions about what to do with the statue and what to do with the perpetrators should they ever be found.
Christmas was drawing nigh and the pastor wanted to close the drama in a way fitting to the season. He prayed and he prayed. He consulted the bishop and his brother priests about the situation. No one came up with a solution that made his soul comfortable. Just a few hours before Midnight Mass on Christmas, Jesus gave him the inspiration that he needed. He was flooded with peace and happiness because now he knew what God wanted, and, might he say in no uncertain terms, needed.
The time for the Midnight Mass came. All the preliminary ceremonies and rites went off without a hitch. The baby Jesus was laid in His manger with a smile somewhat sweeter this year than in the few years past. The pastor had a glow on his face that had the congregation fired up too. Came the time for the homily. The happy pastor went to the pulpit, zealous and burning with the fire of God's house in his heart. He stood up straight and instead of preaching, he recounted the story of the stolen statue. A dropped pin would have sounded like a canon during the telling of the story. Then the pastor stopped talking because he was overtaken with emotion. He now had to announce his solution to God's people. He gathered himself and in a voice trembling, but forceful, pronounced his (and that of Jesus) decision: "We have a new statue to replace the old one." Murmurs in the church, but then quickly, heavenly silence again. "It is entitled, 'I have no hands but yours." The pastor could not see, too many tears. He couldn't hear anything either and wondered if he had gone deaf of a sudden. He had no sooner wiped one eye dry that a roaring chorus of AMEN's shook the rafters of the large church. God's people standing and shouting AMEN over and over again for minutes on end.
There is not a Catholic soul in San Diego who has ever contested the pastor's decision. True or not, the parish in question has a reputation, and deservedly so, for being the most socially active parish in the entire diocese. There is a statue to back this story up in front of the church of Christ the King. Everyone in that parish believes this story to be theirs. It has some variations, but, they point out, we have the statue to prove it.
Part two: This is the historically true section.
What's with the picture at the head of the story?

Almost four years ago my wife and I were minding our own business working for a pastor in Fremont, California. One day the pastor of St. Christopher parish in Moreno Valley, California called and asked us to move to Southern California to help him in this parish of over 6,000 families. It's too long a story for now, but, we came. In the process of gathering things to move, we found a plaster casting of the Christ that you see in the center of the picture. We had never encountered it before, but there it was. We looked at one another and wordlessly communicated all that had to be known at the moment. Since that moment, that handless casting of Jesus is a center piece of the Bible Meditation Corner of our dwelling. It always takes prominence on the first Sunday of Advent. This year it is highlighted by two miniature Nativity replicas, one Chinese and one (the plaster shell), Italian, from Assisi.

Jesus and your guardian angel do not want to see you crying at my funeral...not unless you can prove to them that it is out of the joy of seeing that I have gone to heaven. Capeesh?

Sunday, December 16, 2007


Sunday, December 16, 2007 started off quite well. I was in a city some 90 miles away from my usual residence. We participated in the first "Simbang Gabi" (Filipino traditional pre-Christmas early morning novena) Mass of the pre-Christmas novena at 7:30 AM. The weather was clear and crisp. The pastor was on
his game and the homily was worth sitting for. We left the church and went to the hall for conviviality around some simple Filipino food. We saw several people that we had not seen for a long period of time, so it was a happy moment. When we got home it became clear that my mother-in-law would need me as her companion for the 10:30 AM Mass. She had not come to the early morning Mass because of the sharp cold in the air. I brewed some "decent" coffee, checked my email, sipped my coffee and left The house at 10:15 at a slow walk with my 88 year old companion. We made good time, 125 yards in about 10 minutes. Met a lot of people who told us how impressed they were about how good the lady looked and we went down the center aisle looking for an aisle seat. We found one close to the "presbyterium" (we used to call it the sanctuary), knelt down to say "hello" to Jesus and before we could sit down, the entry of the priest was announced, so we stood and joined in the entrance hymn. In about thirty seconds it became obvious that there was a visiting priest among us this day. The pastor had located someone to help him for this weekend.

The introduction by the visitor contained a little humor. "It has been close to five years since I was last here on a Sunday morning. Those of you who were here then will noticed that I haven't aged a single day since then." There was muted laughter, followed by the proper liturgical greeting.

I personally was waiting for the homily. I didn't mind waiting because the first lector was a saintly lady who had been baptized after spending two years with me in the RCIA before being baptized at this self-same parish. She is a GOOD lector and her rendition of the Isaiah reading was right on. The second lector was not as good, but St. Paul's admonitions keep my attention sharp. The Presider at the Eucharist used a soft and subdued tone in his telling of the Gospel story, which features St. John the Baptist in jail at a point when he sends messengers to ask Jesus, "Who are you? Are you the one who has been promised or should we await someone else?"

I wondered what this priest was going to do with the story. He is no stranger to the people in the pews. I am quite sure that more than a couple were wondering the same thing. He did something I liked before the homily. He stepped away from the ambo, but did not pre-empt the altar by standing in front of it while he delivered the homily. He stood aside from the altar the entire time. Sweet liturgical move! Well, I have to tell you that the homily was good. I have to point out that I said a short little prayer before he opened his mouth so that I could be open to what the Spirit was going to tell me with this priest's voice. Well, the Spirit did a good job. A good job with the priest's voice and a good job with keeping my heart open to this part of the Word.

After the homily, the Mass went on as usual until the Our Father. Right after the Great Amen, the visiting presider led the congregation in the traditional Plain Chant version of the Our Father, in English, of course. This was a welcome change since we usually recite the Lord's Prayer in this parish.

On the way out after the Mass, I brought my mother-in-law to meet the visiting Bishop and ask for his blessing. You heard me, the Bishop. He drove his own car, (A Volkswagen, Passat), presided over two Masses, walked down the aisle himself, stayed at the altar all alone and for one day was the pastor's helper. He greeted people after the Mass and dispensed his blessings. He shook my mother-in-law's hand and blessed her after I translated her request for his blessing. This Bishop has the habit of doing this. He fairly often shows up and works with the priests of a parish. True, he has a lot of bad press, a rather lousy reputation and in fact has done many nasty things to laity and clergy alike. Despite all the good that he has done, it is easy to
find detractors of this person from one end of the diocese to another. It is just as easy to find them across the entire national Catholic community, from "sea to shining sea." This day, he was just a priest, bringing God to God's people. This should happen more often. Bishops might want to think that they can be the "voice in the desert" even if they walk down the aisle without the red carpet and the flouncing feathers and gleaming swords. Even without a good reputation and a with satchel full of bad press, the faithful will be grateful that the Bishop can respond to the sacramental needs of his people. They will be
happy to see the bishop helping his priests get through the demands placed on the pastors who in many instances work

through the demands of job without assistants. That is because when a priest is rendering service, the faithful recognize that

he's doing it because he believes. We who sit in the pews benefit from that faith because it matches our own.

I believe that about priests. I think that we all should. Join me and you won't want to cry at my funeral.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Encountering the Living Christ – “OM NAMAH SHIVAYA”

The case against Peter Phan author of the book "Being Religious Interreligiously"
by Paul Dion, STL

Below is an excerpt from a flyer distributed to participants last September during "Catechist Day" at a parish we will keep unnamed. Oh yes, the parish is very real, and this story we are sharing really did happen.

ST. "It will remain unnamed" CHURCH

INTRODUCTION: We meet Christ with joy in our Creation and in each other. Jesus is here, we welcome Him as we journey together in prayer.
+In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

(The eternal name of God, being one with His Creation)

Huh? "I bow to Shiva." That's how OM NAMAH SHIVAYA really translates to English.

Some months ago (May, 2007) presented some very clear teachings in line with the official position of the church regarding yoga, New Age and other ancient Asian spiritualities (theosophies). At that time we quoted extensively from a document that had been presented to the Holy See making the point that these ancient Asian spiritualities are at odds with Catholicism. You may refresh your memory by clicking here.

Also at about that time, a Jesuit professor at Georgetown University (Peter Phan) was being investigated by the Holy See because it was then, and still is, suspected that his assertions in his writings are at odds with Catholic doctrine. Specifically there is one book of his that in under very close scrutiny. It is entitled "Being Religious Interreligiously".

In this work Father Phan places several daring propositions on the table, all of which come close to being against Catholic doctrine. They are so close to being erroneous that they have caused the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to put out a statement warning Catholics that "Being Religious Interreligiously" presents Catholic doctrine in a downright confusing fashion and could easily lead the reader into error. This is the link to the USCCB document.

You can also click here to view a news article about the USCCB rebuke of Fr. Phan's assertions in his book.

Why? How?


In the interest of brevity, we will just quote three areas of concern in the thinking of Peter Phan as elucidated by the USCCB.


"In contemporary theological reflection there often emerges an approach to Jesus of Nazareth that considers him a particular, finite, historical figure, who reveals the divine not in an exclusive way, but in a way complementary with other revelatory and salvific figures. The Infinite, the Absolute, the Ultimate Mystery of God would thus manifest itself to humanity in many ways and in many historical figures: Jesus of Nazareth would be one of these." (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus: Declaration on the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church (6 August 2000)
Click here for referenced Vatican document.

Against such a misrepresentation, Dominus Iesus declares: "These theses are in profound conflict with the Christian faith. The doctrine of faith must be firmly believed which proclaims that Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary, and he alone, is the Son and the Word of the Father." (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus, no. 10.)

2. THE SALVIFIC SIGNIFICANCE OF NON-CHRISTIAN RELIGIONS (Phan seems to downplay the significance of the Church and overplay the significance of other religions, particularly Asian ones.)

"The Church affirms that non-Christian religions do in fact possess certain elements of truth. Every human being possesses an innate desire to know God, who is the common end and origin of the human race. Those searching for God in other religions have established ways of living and formulated teachings that "often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men." The Church regards these elements of goodness and truth found in other religions as a preparation for the Gospel."

"Being Religious Interreligiously", however, rejects this teaching as an insufficient recognition of the salvific significance of non-Christian religions in themselves: The book defends the view that "the non-Christian religions possess an autonomous function in the history of salvation, different from that of Christianity," and that "they cannot be reduced to Christianity in terms of preparation and fulfillment."

3. THE CHURCH AS THE UNIQUE AND UNIVERSAL INSTRUMENT OF SALVATION (Phan seems to assert that the claim for her uniqueness and universality "should be abandoned altogether.)

Although "Being Religious Interreligiously" does not adequately uphold Jesus' singular and universal significance, it does maintain that one can and should present the claim for the uniqueness and universality of Jesus Christ in the context of interreligious dialogue, at least in a qualified form.39 As for the Church, however, it argues that the claim for her uniqueness and universality "should be abandoned altogether."

4. CONCLUSION OF THE USCCB (Click on USCCB - the link - for the entire document)

"While "Being Religious Interreligiously" addresses a number of issues that are crucial in the life of the contemporary Church, it contains certain pervading ambiguities and equivocations that could easily confuse or mislead the faithful, as well as statements that, unless properly clarified, are not in accord with Catholic teaching. Therefore we bishops as teachers of the faith are obliged to take action that will help ensure that the singularity of Jesus and the Church be perceived in all clarity and the universal salvific significance of what he has accomplished be acknowledged in the fullness of truth."


We are using the example of the "Catechist Day"event at our unnamed parish to drive home one important point - Jesus Christ is the unique and universal savior of all mankind and the Church is the unique and universal instrument of salvation. The USCCB statement reprimands Dr. Phan and those like him - including the leaders of this Catechist Day in question - for either consciously or unconsciously not abiding by the unique role that Christ and His Church play in mankind's salvation.

On the flyer that was distributed to the participants of the CATECHIST DAY mentioned in the header of this article, the mantra OM NAMAH SHIVAYAH appeared above a parenthetical statement which reads: "The Eternal name of God, being one with His Creation."

It is perhaps impossible from this distance to assert that this parenthetical is meant to translate the mantra. If it is, it is completely erroneous. The translation of the mantra is, "Bow down to Shiva."

And who is Shiva? How is he related to Christ? Shiva is a male god in the panoply of old Indian religions. He is the tough "hombre" known as the god of destruction. does not think that this is a fair representation of the stated theme of the CATECHIST DAY" "ENCOUNTERING THE LIVING CHRIST."

In the light of this confusion between Shiva and Christ, we cannot help but to ask ourselves what is meant by the statement, "The Eternal name of God, being one with His Creation." Does it mean that "God is one with His Creation?"

Does it mean, "would that the Eternal name of God be one with His Creation?" Does it mean that the Eternal name of God is "other" than God Himself?" Does this erroneous translation (paraphrase?) refer to Shiva or to Christ?

Finally, in the name of the axiom, "as we believe, so we pray" (Lex credendi; lex orandi) it seems to be fair to ask, "For whom was the CATECHIST DAY organized?" The followers of Shiva or the disciples of Christ? If the answer is for Christ, didn't the leaders of the "DAY" trust in the strength of the divinity of Christ to provide the grace needed to help His disciples "encounter" Him through prayer?

It also seems fair to ask, "Why go to ancient Asian deities and spiritualities when our tradition goes back at least 3,000 years including the Essenes?" "is there not enough fodder for mantras in the Psalms?" Maybe like psalm 42, "My soul thirsts for God"? Or maybe psalm 69, "Help me Lord, I'm up to my neck in the swamp!" Or maybe, Jesus on the Cross, "I thirst?"

Oh, sorry, you want something in a Middle Eastern language, you know, something exotic. Why not "Marana-tha!" Or, facing Jerusalem, "Hallel!" Maybe a little Greek would have worked nicely, "Kyrie Eleison?"


Incidents like this have been known to transpire in one form or another in many parishes worldwide over the years. And since is a global publication, we thought keeping the parish name "hypothetical" in this story would make for a more effective teaching opportunity. Who knows, it could very well happen - albeit unintentionally - in a parish close to yours.

We came to know about this specific event because some of our readers – a few of whom are personally known to us - were present at the event and they provided the facts discussed here. They were of Indian descent and understood what the mantra really meant. They were offended by this brazen insult to our Catholic Faith. They are dismayed at the fact that it happened during a spiritual event for catechists which was being led by delegates from the diocesan office. has covered this topic before. If you haven't done so yet, click here to refresh your memory.


And now, the bishops of the United States have joined the Holy See in sending out a warning about the confusion that exists in the minds of many about the relationship between Christ and other gods like Shiva.

Maybe the Catechist Day incident we described happened because the leaders were not fully aware of the meaning of the mantra they urged the participants to chant. We would like to think that is the case here. In any case, it is our hope that this article will drive our parish leaders to become more wary and aware of the true meaning of things before jumping into them.

We pray that you will heed the clarifications of the Holy See and the bishops of the United States and make them a part of your Catholic zeal. If you do, you will understand why you do not have to cry at my funeral.

CLICK HERE to view "Controversial Theologian Fr. Peter Phan rapped by Catholic bishops."